Global Insights: Transnational Kleptocracy and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated existing corruption risks in countries around the world, but it has also generated new opportunities for civil society to gain leverage in the fight against transnational kleptocracy. The essays in this “Global Insights” series are the product of six workshops held by the International Forum for Democratic Studies during the spring and summer of 2020. These workshops gathered a multisectoral group of civil society representatives, journalists, academics, researchers, donor organizations, and policy makers to assess the intersection between COVID-19 and transnational kleptocracy, and how civil society and independent media can respond to new challenges posed by the pandemic.

Read the full essay collection: Transnational Kleptocracy and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Containing the Spread

Read the editor’s overview essay: Transnational Kleptocracy and the COVID-19 Pandemic: How to Contain the Spread? by Melissa Aten (International Forum for Democratic Studies)


Key Insights & Related Essays

Economic upheaval creates opportunities for kleptocracy: The massive surge in aid, spending, and procurement prompted by the pandemic has frequently undermined transparency and accountability. This issue is especially prevalent in the healthcare sector where rampant embezzlement, bribery, and price gouging during the pandemic has allowed elites to enrich themselves. Economic pressures may encourage institutions in democracies, like universities and think tanks, to turn to kleptocratic funding sources, subsequently enabling reputation laundering and putting academic freedom and integrity in jeopardy. In semi-authoritarian settings, the economic fallout may tempt leaders in “rule-by-law” states to increase their participation in kleptocratic networks and allow more illicit funds to flow through their financial systems. Low oil prices may cause some heavily oil-dependent source countries to double down on corrupt deals as they search for alternative energy sources.

Kleptocratic source countries are unprepared for health emergencies: Decades of looting in kleptocratic countries have left few health, education, and other public resources available to assist citizens during this public health emergency. In Central Africa, leaders awarded favorable deals to businesses with close ties to the government and enlisted political allies, rather than health experts, to design responses to the pandemic.

Civil society seizes new opportunities: Restrictions against movement and gatherings during the pandemic have pushed more people online. Consequently, citizens have taken to social media to protest corrupt governments and draw attention to resulting hardships. In addition to impromptu social media campaigns, civil society groups should focus on building a diverse and durable network of advocates to expose and combat transnational kleptocracy.

Investigative journalism and media outlets are adapting: Independent media and journalists, suffering from financial shortfalls, have leveraged networked forms of journalism to uncover abuses and their impact on people’s daily lives. Outlets that are adaptable, flexible, and responsive to public interest have an opportunity to build trust and expand readership during the pandemic.


For more from NED’s International Forum on transnational kleptocracy, see:

For additional global insights, view our essay collection on  COVID-19 and the information space.